In South Africa alone, 1 in 3 women and girls have been victims of violence. Less than 40% of them seek help of any sort. Of this, only 10% seek support from police.
The UN Declaration on Ending Violence against Women, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993, defined violence against women as:
- Any sexual, mental or physical violence that occurs within a family unit: This can take any form, including battering, forced marriage, sexual abuse, rape, non-spousal violence, FGM and other harmful traditions.
- Any sexual, mental or physical violence that occurs in the community: This includes sexual abuse, rape, women trafficking, and sexual harassment in schools, at work or elsewhere.
- Any sexual, mental, and physical violence that the government deliberately ignores, or executes in any region of the country
A 1995 study by the World Health Organization established that gender-based violence is a universal problem which affects millions of women. However, those who live in the sub-Saharan countries take the most heat. According to statistics, 51% of African women have been victims of violence.
Cases of violence are still very commonin many regions across the continent. What is shocking is they continue to happen even in broad daylight.
Not long ago, KoffiOlomide, a Congolese musician, was caught on camera kicking his female dancerat the JKIA, Nairobi.
According to Mercy Onda, a Women’s Right Activist in Kenya, the fact that Olomide had the guts to kick a woman publicly, in a foreign country, in the presence of police officers, and wasn’t charged shows the degree to which violence against women is normalized.
Causes of violence against women
- Physical violence
Culture plays an integral part in shapingpeople. It determines the definition of both the psychopathology and normality. Culture is at the center stage of how certain societies and population perceive and process physical, sexual and mental violence.
Most of the African rural communities still believe that women, like children, should be beaten as a form of discipline. They even take it a notch higher and say it is a way to expresslove. When a man fails to hit his wife, then she imagines that he does not care anymore.
A recent Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) survey showed that about 29% of women had experienced either physical or sexual violence since age 15. It also found that 34% and 46% of men and women respectively, justify wife beating.
- Sexual violence
Sexual violence cases are prevalent in cultures that do not shun women objectification. They see women as the inferior sex, whose opinion doesnot hold value, and that their role is limited to reproduction. In these cultures, men feel like they own a woman and can do whatever they please with them, including forcing them into having sex. What is sad is that onlya few cases (26%-33%) reach the authorities, because of the stigma and other difficulties that tie with the issue.
Various cultures condemn some forms of sexual violence but tolerate others. This fuels the continuum with tolerated coercion on the one hand and transgressive on the other.
For instance, in South Africa, the sexual offense against a black woman was acceptable as part of life, but for a white woman, it was a crime worthy of prosecution under the apartheid regime.
Although violence against women cuts across people of all socioeconomic groups, evidence shows that men who are socially excluded or who live in poverty are likely to perpetrate violence. The financial stress that comes with them being jobless, or feeling inadequate can lead to frustration, anger and violence. Such cases of violence are extreme in fragile, war-affected and conflict states with collapsed economies.
In a home setup, violence against women can be because of men’s insecurities. Some men feel intimidated if the woman has a high paying job. Therefore, they resolve to violence as a way of showing they are the heads of the family.
Exposure to violence from childhood
Children, who grow in families that batter or mistreat women, are likely to pick the habit. Behavioral scientists say that children who grow in violent households or surroundings will often replicate that in their adulthood.
Violence against women roots from cultural norms and gender-based discrimination and stereotypes. The best way to end the violence is to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
To end violence, we should strive to:
- Nurture and raise an empowered generation through education. Young girls and boys should learn the importance of gender equality and respectful relationship.
- Empower peer educators who, in turn, will help convey age-appropriate sessions and nonformal education.
- Break the impunity cycle. The victims of violence against women should undergo prosecution, to serve as a lesson for others.
- Societies need to bring violence against women out from behind closed doors. They should refuse to disregard or condone the acts of oppression and domination (in the name of tradition or culture).
The Causes and Effects of Child Marriage
“If I only knew what I know now, I never would have settled into marriage. I cannot remember the last time I smiled with joy. My life is clouded with fear, anger, depression, and uncertainty. I don’t know where to turn to for hope, so I’m left here, sitting, hoping for the best, that I’m sure will never come to pass,” Mambo tells me with deep regret.
She was only 13 when her parents married her off to an 18-year-old boy from the neighboring community. From where she comes from, girls should not stay with their parents for long. They belong with their husbands.
Her story is typical of what girls her age go through in the Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. Statistics show that 1 in 4 girls marry before age 18. African countries account for 17 of 20 nations with the highest rates of child marriage in the world. For example, about 55% of girls in West and Central Africa, 60% in sub-Saharan Africa and 45% in Eastern and Southern Africa marry before they are 18. In South Asia, about 1 in 3 girls marry before age 18.
This is nothing to sneeze at; and if nothing happens to prevent early marriages, the numbers will double by 2050.
You may wonder why children turn into brides. Here are some common causes of child marriage:
- Dowry – In African communities, grooms have to pay the bride price before they get the girl, while in Asia, it is just the opposite – girls have to pay the price. Families that live in poverty view this as a chance to get a considerable amount of money. In Africa, some parents will marry off the girl so they can raise the school fees for their boys. In Asia, a younger girl costs less than an older one, so it is advantageous to marry them off soon.
- Family honor – For most families, it is a great honor to marry off a virgin daughter. Parents fear their girls will indulge in sex if they stay longer at home. So, they prefer that she settles with her husband before she thinks about messing up.
- The notion that girls do not hold value – In places like Burundi, girls are only valuable because they can produce babies.
- Men make decisions alone – They decide what is best for their children, and the rest follow suit. When a man says she’s going to be married, that is what will happen.
- Lack of choice for girls – In many societies, marriage is the only way for a girl to support herself and also earn the social respect. It is seen as the only way to secure her future.
- Peer pressure – Some parents marry off their children to please the neighbors or their religious leaders. Some do it because they believe it is the right way to behave.
Effects of Early Child Marriage
While there are national laws and international agreements to end this harmful practice, early child marriage is still prevalent and affects millions of people around the globe.
Child marriage is a violation of human rights.
Girls, who marry young fail to enjoy optimal health, obtain an education, bond with their peers, and even choose their life partners.
- Psychological effects
53% of women who marry before age 18 report having had depression at some point in life, which is 4% more than women who marry later on. They also are more likely to suffer from specific phobias than their counterparts (36% vs. 28%). The mental health effects tend to vary with the number of children a woman has along with other social variables.
- Health effects
Child marriage exposes the girl to more risk for STIs, cervical cancer, obstetric fistulas, death during childbirth and malaria. They also face the risk of premature birth.
How does a child who knows nothing about the world raise another child, into a responsible adult?
Ending child marriage
There is not a fast and hard solution to end child marriage in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and other parts of the world. However, if we ensure that all girls have access to decent education, then that will be a step in the right direction.
It is also important for religious and community leaders to understand their role in the fight against child marriage. They have the power to change how people view these practices. The best approach is to empower such leaders with the right information, which they can pass on to their societies.
Since child marriage is a deep-rooted practice that has been going on for generations, we should jointly work with families and communities to raise awareness of the harmful effects of child marriage. This will help shift how they view the practice.
Above all else, countries should establish and implement laws and policies around child marriage. Strong policy and legal system can offer a vital backdrop for changes in social norms, improvement in services and girls’ empowerment.
The Struggles of Pregnant Women in the Marginalized Communities of Africa
Giving birth should be a joyful experience. But for Africa’s poor, the process is often life-threatening.
Women from the marginalized communities face numerous challenges. They lack access to quality medical services, resources, as well as the right education around pregnancy.
This is the story of Cherop, a young girl from the Maasai tribe in Kenya. It is a reflection of what thousands of girls go through every year to bring a baby into this world.
Cherop is a 17-year-old girl from the Maasai Community. She is expecting her firstborn baby, and like most of the mothers, she is very eager to meet her unborn child.
Since she was three months on, she has been making endless trips to the midwife – Mama. Everyone in the village knows and trusts Mama. For over 30 years, she has helped hundreds of women give birth.
What is surprising is that she does it all in her small grass-thatched house, on top of a not-so-stable table, with no equipment, no gloves, no medication, just her bare hands. And although she manages to handle the process successfully, there are times when the baby, the mother or both lose their lives.
But the fact that one too many lives get lost during delivery does not stop Cherop from employing her services. In fact, she believes that hers will be successful, because she’s been strict with her checkups, and that she has followed the midwife’s instruction to the latter. Besides, she has no reason to doubt the ability of Mama. After all, she was the one who helped her mother give birth to her about two decades ago.
Journey to the hospital
Even though Cherop dropped out of school before she could read, she knows the importance of going to the hospital. Her favorite radio program talks about this all the time. But this is not an option for her. The nearest hospital is about 150 KM away, and the only vehicle that goes there passes at four o’clock in the morning. Unfortunately, the bus fares are often too high. If she decides to go to the hospital, she would have to walk for two or more days.
There is also an option of using a bicycle service as a transport mode; however, the roads are hilly and rocky. And because the Maasai village sits in an arid area, temperatures go beyond 45-degrees during the day and about 10-degrees at night. All these conditions are unfavorable to a pregnant woman.
The state of public hospitals
Despite all the journey troubles, Cherop could still make to the hospital. But if she considers what awaits her there, she would rather have the midwife help her with delivery.
It is a good thing that the government of Kenya declared free maternal care in all public hospitals. The problem is there are inadequate resources in these facilities. Therefore, it beats logic for one to go through the struggle only to find out that there is insufficient personnel in the hospital to help with the delivery.
Most hospitals in the marginalized areas do not have the necessary equipment, such as incubators, monitors, overhead heaters, IV, feeding pumps or ventilators, so nothing can be done if a baby is born prematurely, for there are
Also, Cherop does not see the need to go to the hospitals where she has to share a bed with three other pregnant or lactating women. She thinks it is uncomfortable, unhygienic, and frustrating – and she is right.
Negligence is another thing that scares her.
“I have heard cases of women delivering on the floor! The negligence in hospitals is just too much. Just the other day, four women and seven infants died at the hospital because of the looming blood shortage,” she says.
Midwives play an incredible role in the society. However, it is essential for every pregnant woman to have access to quality medical services. These children are the leaders of tomorrow, and if nothing is done, then many things go wrong. It is, therefore, our duty to speak out to ensure governments develop more hospitals in the marginalized communities and ensure that these hospitals are fully equipped with the right tools of the trade, so no life is lost.
Domestic Violence: Why it disproportionately Impacts African Women
Women in the growing economies not only have to contend with violence, but also with the fear of it. It’s this fear that restricts the places they can go to and activities they can do to end the cases of violence.
This leads us to the question, why is violence against women so prevalent in homes?
We all are born and raised in a specific culture. By default, we grow and hold on to it. And like oxygen, we cannot feel it, neither can we see it, but it has a significant impact on our lives. Violence against women, too, becomes the way of life as young boys witness their fathers, uncles and other men in the society devalue their mothers, aunties and sisters.
It is impossible to talk about domestic violence and not question the cultural aspects that cause, fuel and sustain it. We also cannot understand this concept without clarifying the reason why gender-based violence disproportionately affects poor women from sub-Saharan Africa and other third world countries. And that’s what we discuss in this article.
Domestic Violence Statistics
While ubiquitous, the cases of home-based violence don’t reach the relevant authorities. So, it’s somewhat hard to get the right statistics. Even so, the available numbers are still startling.
Statistics show that:
- 1 in every 4 women in South Africa is a victim of domestic violence.
- 1 woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner.
- Domestic violence cases profoundly affect women aged between 20-24 years
- 66% of the violent crimes come from men the women know and sometimes, trust.
- Intimate partner (boyfriends and husbands) accounts for 15% of all attacks.
- In homicide cases, 1 in 3 women is murdered by her former or current partner
Women also suffer sexual violence in the hands of men they care for or love.
Statistics show that:
- 1 in 2 women experience some form of sexual victimization like stalking, unwanted sexual contact, attempted rape in her lifetime
- 1 in 5 women is a rape victim, compared to 1 in 71 men.
- Of the 1 in 5 raped women, 1% report the perpetrator to be an intimate partner, and 40.8% an acquaintance.
It comes as a shock that something as fundamental as anatomy can have such complex and far-reaching consequences. How to live as an African woman today is either to fear or to experience sexual and/or physical violence. This comes right in the face of fights against gender-based violence and promotion of gender equity.
The sad bit is the perpetrators of violence are often very close relations; those whom the women know, and most likely trust.
If the above statistics are anything to go by, then it’s evident that gender-based violence takes different forms, and like many aspects of life, it is recurring.
It is evident that while domestic violence ties to some kinds of cycles and behaviors, it is still part of the broader culture. What this means is that it is not similar to, but still part of, rape, street harassment, and rape jokes.
The rate of domestic violence is so high even to rule out that the perpetrators are outliers or crazy. It is true that the abuser’s background plays a significant role in molding who they turn out to be, but so does the culture that consistently points fingers towards the women, protects powerful men prosecution and questions when a woman chooses to report violence.
The culture of domestic violence
Culture not only creates an environment that encourages violence against women, but it also shapes how people interpret it.
If a man hits a woman, many people tend to ask, “Why does she stay?” instead of, “Why did he hit her?”
To some extent, the “Why does she stay,” question comes from the natural confusion about how a victim of violence can still “be with the man.” But at the same time, the question shows the degree to which people still hold on to the choices of the victim than the actions of the abuser.
And because the conclusions we make are as a result of our questions, it limits how people view and interpret issues around domestic violence.
According to the society, when a woman is raped, maybe it’s because her dress was too short, or she was out alone in the middle of the night, or she provoked the man, or she stays alone. And when she’s hit, she’s disrespectful, or she didn’t cook well or clean the house thoroughly. Everything revolves around the woman not doing something right.
The society believes that women experience violence because of the choices that they make. The reality is, the assault is as a result of the decisions that these men make, and the cultural power that encourages this kind of behavior.
Why violence disproportionately affects African women
Although women of any background and income level can be a victim of abuse, the truth of the matter is that poverty is a persistent risk factor for gender-based violence in home setups. It also is the reason why women hold on to abusive relationships because otherwise, they have no place to go.
If a woman decides to leave an abusive home, she and her children are likely to end up on the streets, and so they choose to stay.
Today, African women are more empowered and have more opportunities than ever. The cultures, too, are rapidly shifting, and nothing is the same as it was five decades ago. The issue of violence against women also gets more attention now than before.
However, domestic violence and the fear associated with it is still a persistent problem. Mainly if it happens in the mediation of power, poverty, and race, more and more women get left out with no justice or support from the legal systems.
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